The devil made her do it
Things you’ll be hearing about Diablo Cody: That is not her real name, though it seems appropriate for the author of a memoir called Candy Girl: A Year in the Life of an Unlikely Stripper. So yeah, a stripper. But an unlikely stripper. So yeah, an unlikely stripper, but one who says so in the title of her memoir. So yeah, a coy, unlikely stripper who wrote a memoir. Also formerly a phone-sex operator, and a blogger and contributor to a Twin Cities alternative weekly newspaper, a columnist for Entertainment Weekly magazine as of last week, and, at 29 years old, the publicity-arousing screenwriter of Juno.
Things you’ll find on “the Pussy Ranch,” Diablo Cody’s blog: a precious, faded photo of the author as a young girl, decked out a la Wonder Woman in “flame-attractant polyester Underoos and Mom’s red cowboy boots”; a banner ad for a Frida Kahlo exhibit; a review of Orbit Mint Mojito gum (“Finally, a gum that addresses my very specific demographic: trendy, drunk, Mexico-adjacent garnish enthusiasts who consider fresh breath a priority!”); yourself becoming irritated.
So it is with Juno, Cody’s distinctive contribution to that still-evolving, ever-so-delicate movie subgenre: the noteworthy early 21st century American comedy of unwanted pregnancy (see also Knocked Up), which limns Gen-X legacy anxiety with sass and sarcasm and verbal dexterity—sometimes at its own peril. The titular figure is an intelligent, irreverent clown—fairly conventional, movie-comedy-wise, except that she’s also an accidentally pregnant 16-year-old girl. And she’s played by Ellen Page, last seen as a vengeful jailbait nymph in Hard Candy and an apparitional mutant in X-Men: The Last Stand, and never more equal to her material than here. When, early on, Juno rings a clinic on her cutely kitschy hamburger-shaped phone and dryly quips, “Hey, I’m just calling to procure a hasty abortion,” Page seems like the perfect vessel for the Diablo-Cody-brand voice of a generation.
It spoils nothing to tell you she delivers the baby (so far there is no precedent for American comedies of abortion); the story emerges from Juno’s selection of the adoptive parents (Jennifer Garner and Jason Bateman) to whom she’ll give her child away. “You should’ve gone to China, you know,” she says, testing them and perhaps herself. “’Cause I hear they give away babies like free iPods. You know, they pretty much just put them in those T-shirt guns and shoot them out at sporting events.” And, of course, the resolution depends on her coming to terms with coming to term.
Good thing she has such a strong support system. The baby’s father, Paulie (Michael Cera), is a picture of gangly devotion: sweet, shy and unreasonably patient. What’s more, in a movie full of predictable music cues by the Kinks, the Velvet Underground, Belle & Sebastian, Cat Power, the Moldy Peaches, Sonic Youth (included, admittedly, for the well-played joke about how Bateman’s character’s fandom shows his age), Paulie has enough refinement of taste to listen to Antonio Jobim (not included on the soundtrack; it figures). Juno’s own father (J.K. Simmons) and stepmother (Allison Janney) respond to the situation with calm, good humor, and tend to go to bat for their girl in moving and funny ways. Even the moneyed yuppies whose prayers of parenthood Juno answers—she a latent soccer-mom-from-hell, he a wannabe rocker who sold out to write commercial jingles—appreciate and encourage her feistiness. Everyone’s perfectly willing to be Juno’s straight man.
It’s not so unreasonable; the whole cast seems contagiously happy to be here. You might say they’re traveling first-class in the Diablo Cody bandwagon. Juno has a director, too, of course, and that’s Jason Reitman, whose credits include Thank You For Smoking and his successful director father, Ivan. He makes his presence felt by framing the film with standard indie-quirk trappings (hand-drawn titles, the aforementioned music, random montages) and getting out of the actors’ way (maybe to a fault). But the real feeling of the thing, its Gilmore Girls-for-alternateens tone, is all the work of the Diablo.
When Juno dispenses with gimmickry and really trusts its voice, it’s fresh and sharp and funny. Otherwise—by trying to turn its voice into a brand—it just asks for trouble. Some idiot somewhere surely will accuse this film of encouraging teenage girls to go out and get pregnant. More wearying is the very real possibility that it will spawn an uncontrolled population of Diablo Cody imitators.